Route details, maps, pubs, features, local history and folklore for a wide variety of walks focusing primarily on Norfolk and Suffolk

Thursday, 29 September 2011

An Amazing Adventure to Westleton Barrel Fair 2011

Barrel Race

A simple 11 mile walk across the Suffolk heaths and woodland from Leiston to attend the annual Westleton Barrel Fair.

For the second year on the trot we made our way through the lanes, tracks and footpaths to experience the unique adventures of Westleton Barrel Fair. This year there was the usual barrel races across the village green, open to residents and all-comers, together with straight sprints and sack races providing a full days entertainment in the August sunshine. Music was provided on the outdoor stage from the Bruisyard Light Orchestra performing a mixture of blues and pop cover versions in their unique style, together with performances by Rumburgh Morris Men. Other attractions included Punch and Judy shows, Donkey rides, Owls and exotic creatures on display, Coconut Shy, hog roast and various stalls offering local crafts. Adnams ales were available from the White Horse pub and their outside bar by the duck pond though unfortunately the Crown beer tent wasn't here this year so for guest ales we had to resort to wandering down to the Crown. An excellent day out and well worth the walk!

Leiston to Westleton Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
LeistonView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
WestletonView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
11 miles
Walk difficulty
Easy

Walk Data

Date of Walk
2011-08-19
Walk Time
10:30 to 18:30
Walkers
Griffmonster, Kat, Geoff
Weather Conditions
Sunny summers day

Walk Notes

For those that dont know, the barrel race involves contestants having to race an empty firkin down the green and back again with the only means of propulsion being an oak stick. Although this feat looks simple, it is not an easy task with the barrels having a mind of their own as to the direction they roll in. Blocking your opponents barrel is a legal part of the race which results in regular pileups and collisions. Their are numerous races for both men and women plus children's races which only involve going down the green with a Pin rather than a Firkin.

One thing I noticed this year was the all-comers were not from as far and wide as they had been previously. Last year there were contestants from as far afield as Canada, USA, Brazil, Spain as well as from throughout the UK. It is probably a sign of the economic times that most contestants this year were either from the local towns and villages or the surrounding counties. Even so it was the usual chaotic fun watching the barrel racing with collisions and mishaps making the best of the afternoons entertainment!

Ladies all-comers race on the mark to race their barrels
Ladies all-comers race on the mark to race their barrels

Directions

The route uses a mixture of tracks, lanes and footpaths including a small section along the Sandlings Walk

During wet days it is best to take the main road from Leiston towards Theberton and then head down the Eastbridge lane on the right just past the Abbey ruins. In dry weather a more rural route is to head out of Leiston on Valley Road. Once past the terrace of cottages past the railway bridge there is a footpath on the left that leads out past the sewage farm and onto Lovers Lane. turn left and keep straight on down the track at the top of the hill. This eventually comes out on the Eastbridge road where you need to turn right and head into the village. Pass through the village and on the Minsmere road. Where it turns a sharp right keep straight on into the woods. Keep a lookout on the left for a footpath that branches off of the track. Take this until it comes out on a country lane. Turn left and follow the lane down into Westleton. Return is just the reverse of this route.

Owls on display at the exotic zooMix-ups and clashes regularly occur as contestants turn to head back up the green
On the left Owls on display at the exotic zoo; On the right Mix-ups and clashes regularly occur as contestants turn to head back up the green

Pubs

Eastbridge Eels Foot View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Address
Eastbridge Eels Foot
Website

A curious name for a pub; some say it comes from a Heel's Foot, a cobblers implement, others will argue that it is named after the Eel's Boot, a type of woven reed basket used in Eel Fishing. A more fanciful explanation is that it is a derivation of Neale's Boot, named after a medieval priest who trapped the Devil in his boot and tossed him into the river. The Devil escaped disguised as an eel.

The pub is an Adnams establishment and regularly has three of their cask ales on tap, these usually being the Bitter, Broadside and a seasonal ale. The pub is popular with walkers and birdwatchers from nearby Minsmere bird Reserve.

Food and Bed and Breakfast accommodation is on offer and The Eels Foot is renowned for its long tradition of Folk Music which still continue on Thursday evenings with a jam session.

On the interior walls of the pub there is a curious painting of a medieval country feast. If you look closely you will see that some of the men are wearing rather large codpieces. The painting appears to be a corruption of 'The The Peasants Wedding Feast' by Pieter Bruegel. I gather that his son, Pieter the Younger would copy his fathers work and this could well be a humorous copy as the original has a completely different background and no cod-pieces. But then I am no art expert so this is purely conjecture. Nonetheless it is amusing!

Review

A pint of Ghost Ship was enjoyed. A worthy half way stop on the way home!

The Crown, Westleton View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Address
The Crown, Westleton
Website

A Coaching Inn that dates back to the 12th century. Offering food and accommodation and guest ales from local breweries. It has dining areas and terraced gardens at the rear.

Review

A real pity that they could not obtain the licence in time to operate the beer tent - last years selection of ales was appreciated. Nonetheless, this year there was a couple of guest ales available at the pub including Green Jacks Excelsior.

White Horse, Westleton View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Address
White Horse, Westleton
Website

A large beer garden, stone-floored dining room, this Adnams tied house has a locals feel about but is always welcoming. Offers food and bed and breakfast.

Review

A pint of Southwold Bitter from their outside bar. This was served in plastic glasses but was nonetheless a decent pint. I am certain that Adnams have changed their recipe with the rebranding of their Bitter to Southwold Bitter. The old bitter used to have plummy fruity notes to it whereas the Southwold bitter is a lot more of a traditional hoppy bitter which I much prefer.

All-comers ladies heat
All-comers ladies heat

Features

Westleton Barrel FairView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The Barrel Fair was started by two locals, Charlie Alexander and Jim Fisk as part of the Westleton Carnival in 1951. By 1953 it had become an individual event which involved racing wooden barrels down the main street. This soon proved to be rather dangerous and subsequently the barrels were pushed up the street, which was much safer.

Together with the barrel races, dances were also held at Westleton, Middleton and Darsham in order to choose a Barrel Fair Queen and her attendants. After 15 years the new Inspector at Leiston Police Station felt that the closing of the street in order to hold the dance was causing a problem, and unfortunately the Barrel Fair gradually wound down. It was resurrected in 1995 and moved to the village green and has proved to be extremely popular ever since, attracting visitors from far and wide.

References
more barrel race fun and frolics
more barrel race fun and frolics

Images

Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on any image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Click on an image below to view the Image Gallery

Maps

Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: ... 2016-01-16

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